By Mark Hines, courtesy Visit Milwaukee
Green Bay has football, Milwaukee has ethnic heritage, and Madison has a burgeoning foodie scene. On a tour of Wisconsin, groups discover that each destination across the state has its own personality.
Although it doesn’t take a long time to travel from one Wisconsin city to the next, a short drive on the highway takes visitors on a tour of deliciously distinctive destinations. From the signature attractions and experiences of the state’s metropolis to the authentic feel of its smaller cities, each stop along the way reveals a new side of Wisconsin for group travelers to enjoy.
When you spend time in Milwaukee, you’ll quickly discover that the city’s immigrant heritage is still alive and well, lending color and flavor to the destination today. There are numerous ways for groups to experience that heritage; a visit to Old World Third Street is a great way to start.
“Old World Third Street is the old German shopping district,” said Wendy Dobrzynski, group tour manager at Visit Milwaukee. It’s a small area, but you can dine at a German restaurant that has been there since 1904 and is still run by the same family. You can also go into a sausage shop that has been there since the early 1900s and get some fabulous German sausages. You get the real flavor of Milwaukee.”
There’s more Milwaukee flavor — this time of the Irish variety — at the Historic Third Ward, a warehouse district that served as home to many of the Irish immigrants who moved to the city in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, 60 of the warehouses in the district have been named to the National Register of Historic Places, and many now house microbreweries, shops, restaurants and other interesting attractions such as the Milwaukee Public Market.
The city’s ethnic heritage goes beyond German and Irish to include many other international cultures, and Milwaukee residents celebrate those influences with a series of special annual events.
“We have an ethnic festival just about every weekend during the summer,” Dobrzynski said. “Our German, Irish and Polish festivals are the largest in the country. We also have Bastille, Arab and Indian festivals.”
The Lake Michigan coast is the identifying feature of Manitowoc, a small city about 80 miles north of Milwaukee.
“We really promote our coast and being right on the shores of Lake Michigan,” said Jason Ring, president of the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau. “We have three great Lake Michigan lighthouses. They’re extremely accessible for groups to see and photograph, and they’re great places to hear stories about the Great Lakes shipwrecks.”
Groups can learn more about the area’s nautical history at Rogers Street Fishing Village, a district that maintains many of the fishing traditions that served as the backbone for the region’s growth and industry. And there’s lots of information and artifacts on display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
“The museum is three floors of nautical history and information about new technology being used on the Great Lakes,” Ring said. “They have a lot of information on Great Lakes shipping, historic ships and shipwrecks.”
The museum is also home to the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine. The vessel still floats partially submerged in the lake, and visitors can descend inside the sub for detailed tours. Above deck, a video tour plays for visitors who don’t want to make the trip down below.